Richmond Trip Report
Posted 20 August 2008 - 04:06 PM
First of all, thank God for a town with so many 7-11's. The closest one to my house in Kansas City is about forty minutes away, so I was able to get a daily Slurpee fix in Richmond. I find the Slurpee to be the king of all frozen drinks...and since I can't bring myself to try one of their Crystal Lite selections, I should be thankful I don't have regular access to them.
The first meal during my trip was carryout from Frank's Pizzeria. It is a brick oven/New York style pie, and I thought the White Pizza was just great. It's a cheese bomb, extremely rich. The crust is a little thicker than the NY-style pies I remember from visits out east, but the brick oven cooking adds that great texture and flavor I love.
On Friday night we had dinner at the Positive Vibe Cafe. The goal of this non-profit establishment is to provide hands-on food service training and employment to people with physical and developmental disabilities. I don't know how many of the staff are volunteers, but the waitstaff is made up completely of volunteer labor. Overall, we enjoyed some good food and the staff couldn't be any nicer. For me, servers who are truly invested in the restaurant and your enjoyment of the food make all of the difference. We started off sharing a cup of White Seafood "Chili" Bisque...clams, mussels, shrimp, crabmeat and calamari in a spicy bechamel sauce w/onions and peppers. This was definitely the best thing we had. Very rich, and if the "cup" they serve is any indication, a bowl of it would be an entire meal. The crab tots, while they are a fantastic concept, did not deliver. They are basically fried puffs of mashed potatoes with chunks of potato and crab mixed in. They could be a lot better if they were a little smaller/crisper with significantly more spice of any kind. For our mains we got the Smoked Buffalo Salad and the Saint Barnaby's Fried Oysters. The salad was pretty tasty, with very thinly sliced buffalo brisket on top of mixed greens, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, capers and a balsamic vinaigrette. The fried oysters were cooked perfectly, but my personal preference is a flour coating vs. the cornmeal coating they serve. They came with a side of collard greens and cole slaw. The slaw was good, not too heavily dressed, but the greens weren't very flavorful. We enjoyed our meal, I would definitely go back to try some other dishes because the menu is diverse and the desserts that kept passing by looked great. This is obviously a place with a ton of regulars, I think we were the only people who didn't know most of the staff.
We spent Saturday afternoon walking around Carytown, and hopped over to Sticky Rice as soon as they opened at 5pm. This is one of my girlfriend's favorite spots, and I have to say that it will more than likely be my first stop when I'm back in town. Now, I realize that Sticky Rice probably gets eye-rolls from sushi purists and anyone who is easily annoyed with the ultra-hipster vibe of the place, and to those people I say.....more for me! I am ALL ABOUT some inauthentic rolls....and Sticky Rice delivers. We started off with some Jolly Green Wontons (soy bean and wasabi filled wontons), which were good, but next time I'd opt for something new instead of getting them again. The "Crazy Calamari" roll is fantastic...tempura fried calamari, tamago, cilantro, cucumbers and sriracha rolled in tobiko and panko. The "Walk In The Woods" is great too...seasoned spinach, water chestnuts, scallions and smoked salmon, rolled in toasted walnuts. The menu is pretty huge, so I'll have to try more stuff to see what I like best, but I will say that the miraculous "Sticky Balls" will be ordered during every visit. For those who are unfamiliar with the magic of the Sticky Ball, they are inari (tofu?) pockets that are filled with tuna, crab, sriracha rice that are deep fried and topped with a ton of wasabi dressing (like a wasabi mayo), eel sauce, scallions and tobiko. I can't even fathom how unhealthy these things must be, but I will say that it only takes two small bites for my "post-gastric bypass dumping syndrome alarm" to go off...which is what happens whenever I eat something too fatty now. But those two bites are just like a little bit of heaven here on earth. Damn those things are fantastic. We have some great faux-roll options at sushi and tepanyaki restaurants here in Kansas City, but alas nothing quite like the Sticky Balls. If you haven't had them before, and have any interest whatsoever in "ultimate stoner food", go get you some Sticky Balls.
One quick thing to note....on our way back to the Midlothian area where my girlfriend lives, we passed a restaurant called 1 North Belmont. The frog wearing a crown on the sign outside intrigued me so I looked it up online when we got back. Has anyone tried it? I'm probably not going to eat there, but the entree prices listed on their website are so insanely expensive I was just curious to hear about the food. The forty six bucks they charge for their Sole Meuniere could buy me a hell of a lot of Sticky Balls.
On Sunday morning we made our way to Full Kee for dim sum right at 11am when they opened. A line of people waiting for them to open the door was a good sign. My experience outside of Bo Ling's here in Kansas City is limited to Golden Unicorn in NYC, The Phoenix in Chicago and Y Ben House in San Francisco, so while I'm no aficionado I will say I enjoyed Full Kee enough to go back when I'm in town. I've gotten used to the small amount of food I can eat now, but I have to say that eating dim sum is the one thing that frustrates me....I don't think it's something that would reheat well, so I'd have to be with several people to sample the variety that I would like. That aside, we managed to sample some great standard selections...steamed shrimp dumplings, baked roast pork buns, bean sheet rolls with oyster sauce (totally fantastic), sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves, and a new item for me that is just NOT my thing....fried taro dumplings with shrimp paste. We also got some sesame balls, which can be very good when they are fresh out of the fryer, but these had been sitting for too long. Pre-surgery I could put the hurt on some dim sum, so I'll have to go back during my next visit to give it a proper sampling. By the time we left, the place was pretty full and even though there were only 3 carts that I saw, they were packed with a large selection and some things that I don't think I've seen before....a cold dish of baby octopus and another with sliced scallops that both reminded me of Korean banchan, as well as shrimp paste stuffed eggplant and shrimp paste stuffed bean curd. In addition to the carts, servers came through frequently with trays full of dishes in order to keep diners well stocked. The only negative thing about our visit had nothing to do with the food (unless you are a believer in the theory that the condition of the bathroom generally mirrors that of the kitchen)...but when I actually notice that a restaurant bathroom is in rough shape, that means it would probably genuinely bother most people. I'm pretty jaded from visits to gas station bathrooms in rural Mexico and Central America when I was younger, so it takes a lot to make it onto my radar. They weren't serving my food in the men's room so I didn't really care, but visitors beware.
The last dining experience of my visit was by far the most interesting....if your parents were John Waters and Margaret Meade. Mine weren't, but I'm still not ashamed to admit that once in a while I will go to dinner knowing exactly how bad it is going to be....just for the experience. At some point my girlfriend and I were joking about bad restaurants, and of course when that conversation happens it is inevitable that The Cheesecake Factory is going to weasel its way in there. Well, when I found out there was a place called the Cheesecake BISTRO in Richmond, I had to check it out. Just hearing about it reminded me of this joke Louie Anderson told about how when he was a kid his dad was too cheap to take them to the real Disneyland so they'd end up going to "Earl's" Disneyland. I was hoping that the Cheesecake Bistro would be kind of an "Earl's" Cheesecake Factory, and in that regard....I was not disappointed. I'm the guy who can plainly see that the milk in the carton is not only bad, it is congealed into a greenish mass....but I still have to smell it to be sure...so there was no keeping me from this restaurant. If I hadn't scored a $25 gift certificate on restaurant.com for three bucks I probably wouldn't have eaten there, but I did, so the rest is history. Now, you know you are in for a treat when you are driving by all of the other restaurants in the mall to get to the Cheesecake Bistro and they include such classics as Brio Tuscan Grille and PF Chang's. I'm seriously no food snob....I do tend to eat most of my restaurant meals at locally owned and operated places, but I'm not above chowing down at Red Lobster with childlike glee. With that said, Copeland's Cheesecake Bistro is genuinely terrible. It's one of those chains where the staff exudes that forced happiness that comes off as "welcome to hell". And the food, while there is a ton of it, is still a horrible, horrible value despite the sheer tonnage. Our Creamy Crabcake Appetizer was actually okay. It has a few chunks of crab, but is mostly sauteed artichoke hearts, mushrooms and potatoes. Not terrible, but nothing you'd eat twice. My girlfriend got the shrimp, crab and avocado salad. It's not like it was made of poison or anything, it's a salad, but at a whopping $14 it's pretty crappy. Not much going on besides the two heads of prechopped and packaged lettuce they used to create it. I was originally planning to get the fried seafood platter or catfish, but when we arrived they informed us that the fryer was broken. That puts a hell of a dent in the menu, so I figured instead of lamenting the fact that I couldn't order something that might at least be decent since it was fried....I went all-in and got one of their "signature" items...the BBQ Shrimp Linguine. I have no clue what was BBQ about it, but this thing is a mess. It was EXACTLY the right thing to order during our little anthropological science project of an evening. We were sitting right by the open kitchen, and people were ordering a freakish amount of this thing....the look of it reminded me of one of those dishes you order in a restaurant where they ring a bell or blow a siren or something to announce someone ordering whatever undefeatable gargantuan dish the place is famous for. It's basically a cheese pizza that is topped with a pound or so of linguine and a few sauteed shrimp. The sauce, which pools beneath the noodles on top of the pizza, is kind of like Wishbone Robusto Italian dressing. I can see how they get away with charging $18 for it, because there are people who view enormity of a dish with value....but it totally, totally sucks. The pizza crust isn't really that bad, it's very thin and flaky, but between the oily dressing/pasta sauce and the greasy, cheap cheese, it is completely saturated and soggy. I'll eat pretty much any pizza that exists...up to and including those 99 cent Totino's Party Pizzas, but this was a total nightmare. I know it makes no sense, there is no logical excuse for our evening at "Earl's" Cheesecake Factory, but I'm glad we went. It was just as bad as I knew it would be, maybe even a little worse.
So anyway, I really did have a great time in your city and I look forward to my next visit in October (September is her turn to come back to MY town). One way in which Richmond reminds me of KC is that it looks totally packed with restaurants for its size. I'm guessing there is a lot of great food to be had when I come back. Sticky Rice is a no-brainer for me, but between her suggestions and what I've read online, my to-try list so far includes Papa Ningo, Cous Cous, Kabab Grille, Croaker's Spot and of course Mama Zu's. Any additions are appreciated. Also, during our drives around town I spotted a Jamaican place called "The Jerk Pit" that looked intriguing as well as a Lebanese restaurant...but I can't remember what part of town that was. I'll be sure to post here before I leave KC with our restaurant plans for next time....
Posted 25 August 2008 - 01:25 PM
RE: your list of restaurants you are thinking of going to. I've been to Croaker's Spot and Mama Zu - both very good. You should also try the Black Sheep (new) and Cafe Rustica. Of course Millie's is always great. Kuba-Kuba is fun and delicious. Karsen's in Carytown is wonderful. If you were to map all these places you would be able to see that my preference skews to the Fan and Carytown and downtown. I actually live in Glen Allen, but we mostly eat down there! And I hardly know southside at all.
RE: One North Belmont. I'll look up our 'review' that is in my kitchen journal and PM it to you. Mr. Kim wrote it and he was kinda ticked off at the time, so I'm not sure it's fair to post it here. FWIW, we are the only people I've ever heard of that didn't adore the place. But just down the street is a truly special and wonderful butcher shop - Belmont Butchery. Make sure to tell your girlfriend to go see Tonya there - it is the real deal and a type of place that I haven't seen in years!
Mr. Kim and I would love to meet y'all for a drink/meal next time you are in town, if you have the time.
Posted 26 August 2008 - 04:36 PM
I'm definitely not saying Positive Vibe will have the BEST food you'll eat in Richmond (and I AM saying Cheesecake Bistro is the WORST), but the people are so nice and the menu is so diverse that you can absolutely find something you'll enjoy. Other than that, I'll ping you before I come back into town. It will probably be mid to late October. With all of the flying back and forth, we tend to stick to the "Sticky Rice's" vs. the 1 North Belmont's of the world....so your suggestion on the butcher is GREATLY appreciated. When I'm in town, I can work from her house, so I spend all day at her place while she's working.....so some good grilling/braising selections would be just the thing.
Oh, when I get around to updating my blog with the Richmond info later this week, don't take anything about your city personally.....it's pure satire......I do know that statue is Arthur Ashe, and I did not have to give a password to a Civil War reenactor before I could enter Penzey's.....
Posted 27 August 2008 - 07:57 AM
I don't know southside very well. Richmond is like that - everyone tends to stay on their side of the river, except for work. But I know that there are supposed to be some really good, authentic central and south american restaurants there. I can't vouch for any since I am, after all, a northsider , but some research should turn up a number of them!
You can't insult me about that crappy statue - it's embarrassing that such a deserving person is commemorated with that piece of junk. When we drive by it, we always yell, "Arthur, stop beating those children and give them back their book!" clickety and the rest of your blog entry cracked me up. I love Richmond and the South, but I still have a strong sense of humor and irony (you'll find most reasonably intelligent Southerners do ). You are one sick puppy, though (Wayne Williams??? )
Posted 16 October 2008 - 06:32 AM
First of all, even for people with a "normal" stomach capacity, the portions are gigantic. Cheesecake Factory sized portions......with the main difference being that the food is GOOD. My girlfriend got the Shrimp and Scallop Broil and I got the Fried Seafood Platter. All of the single elements of the dishes were great....the cabbage, cheddar ranch grits, the "white rice" which was actually closer to a very flavorful dirty rice (the funniest joke in the menu is the broiled plate is meant for those who enjoy 'the lighter side of life'.... if lighter side means you put half and half instead of heavy cream on your cereal, then I guess this description makes sense), some of the most perfectly broiled scallops I've had in a long time, crabcakes, etc. However, the fried fish is really what it's all about. Granted, I live in landlocked flyover country, so good fried "soulfood style" fish is hard to find, but their filets were probably some of the best I've had in a restaurant before. I was apprehensive at first about the sauteed onions and bell peppers in a secret sauce that was going to be served over the fish, but it totally worked. Next time we visit we'll probably just split a fish boat....what is left in the fridge will go bad before I manage to eat it all. The cornbread was okay, but being later in the evening it probably just wasn't that fresh....but I'm not a big fan of cornbread unless it's covered in chili, ham and beans, or bastardized with cheese and jalapenos to the point where it is no longer cornbread.
The service was super friendly and efficient, and if you are a fan of crazy-sweet homemade limeades you'll love what they are serving. And the sweet tea is damn near as sweet as what I grew up drinking at my grandmother's house.....your spoon stood straight up in her version, but theirs is slightly less sweet. You can add flavors to your limeade, so when I heard a lady across from me order a grape limeade, I said to myself....."I am home".
From what I've read about Croaker's Spot, I figured I would like it, but I'm truly a fan. Again, this is from a guy who doesn't have a lot of options beyond Red Lobster for seafood back home, but that onion and pepper covered fish in a ketchup heavy secret sauce is magical. And if you have a normal appetite, share or be ready to have lunch and dinner the next day.
Anyway, not sure if we'll hit any new places beyond Croaker's Spot this weekend, I may have to hit Sticky Rice two times........ but if we do I'll report back.
Edited to add: The fish on the menu is listed as lake trout.... a fish I am completely unfamiliar with other than seeing it on restaurant signs while watching HBO's "The Wire", which is set in Baltimore. From looking on wikipedia just now, I take it that the fish is just a large freshwater species of trout....and with the mildness and flakiness of the filets, that description totally makes sense. I'm just not used to seeing that much "trout" on a plate for less than a couple gazillion dollars.
Edited by Zeemanb, 16 October 2008 - 06:47 AM.
Posted 16 October 2008 - 03:33 PM
Posted 17 October 2008 - 12:48 PM
Do they have croakers on the menu? If you can deal with fish with bones try some croakers. a slightly stronger tasting fish but great fried. They may also have spots and mullet
I'd have to double check, but I think the only reference I saw was for lake trout, although croakers at Croaker's Spot would seem to make a whole lot of sense. Back home our neighborhood fish shacks have stuff like buffalo and whiting, and I'm always curious whether the names for those fish change regionally.
Posted 21 October 2008 - 01:18 PM
Oh, and I thought Total Wine was GREAT.......great shopping. Can't remember what part of town though.
Being born in Kansas I'll have to get back with you on the roadhouse style chain called "Topeka's".......although I will never eat there while I'm in Richmond, a concept like this one deserves some special attention......
Posted 04 January 2009 - 04:34 PM
That’s me, Jerry and Meredith.
We had a great time and it was phenomenal to meet people who share our ‘obsession’, but who also had a life to talk about!
Mr. Kim had the chicken and dumplings:
Jerry had the CSS Virginia – fried chicken livers served in a toasted French baguette with shredded cabbage, green onions, granny smith apple & remoulade sauce:
Meredith had the USS Lafayette – artichoke hearts, spiced shrimp & green olive tapenade tossed with chopped romaine, tomatoes, sherry vinaigrette; loaded on a toasted French baguette:
I chose two appetizers:
Shrimp Remoulade – boiled shrimp & chopped romaine smothered in remoulade sauce
Cornbread con Pollo – grilled chili cornbread topped with chicken simmered in a savory dark male sauce and finished with crème fraiche
Also on the table were deviled eggs (I never go without getting those) and bread and butter pickled vegetables.
Meredith and Jerry shared a piece of peanut butter pie (a great version) and Mr. Kim and I had the still-warm pineapple upside down cake with fresh pineapples and cherries.
Dinner was really, really good – those of you who are in the area and haven’t tried The Black Sheep really should go. Wonderful relaxed atmosphere and good food that is interesting and approachable at the same time – a great place for mixed gatherings (you and your ‘normal’ friends/family).
Posted 05 January 2009 - 11:48 AM
Not a lot of new food reports from this trip other than our meal at Central in DC. Sticky Rice is still great, and I'm pretty much addicted to the pizza at Frank's Ristorante in the Stony Point Shopping Center. The secret is to not overdo it with the toppings, because they are very generous with them. Great crust, and they use good Kalamata olives instead of the generic canned variety. Meatball and olive is the way to go.....
Casa Grande has some decent Tex-Mex style Mexican food.....low prices and a huge menu. Sino-American buffet on Midlothian was a novelty for us late on Christmas night when we were starving on the drive home from visiting friends......not great, but definitely not the WORST Chinese buffet I've ever visited. Bad Chinese food on Christmas....what better tradition is there?
I'm playing host for my girlfriend in KC next month, and will return to the Richmond area in March. Looking forward to it!
Posted 29 June 2009 - 08:54 AM
I'm a creature of habit when I visit Richmond these days, give me some meatball and whatever veggie pizza from Frank's Ristorante (followed by Slurpees and Utz's Crab Chips) and I'm happy, but we have a couple of new things to add...
Chicken Fiesta- great, cheap rotisserie chicken and assorted goodies. Counter service, one of the cleanest and fairly priced local chain "fast food" joints I've visited in a while. Run, don't walk.....fried yucca, ribs, chicken, awesome tres leches cake, FRIENDLY and efficient service.
Edo's Squid- we were going to eat at Cous Cous because according to their website they are open on Sunday, so we got a surprise when we showed up yesterday..... No big deal, we went down the block to Edo's Squid. Kim probably has some pics she'll include here, but as far as price point and service, this is one fantastic restaurant. Yeah, it's loud, but they have the best fried oysters I have ever eaten, the most tender scungilli I've ever tasted, they do the white bean and grilled squid salad proper, and the chalk board specials give no details so it is like Christmas when you order the "lamb sausage" and it comes to you accompanied with a rich wedge of fried polenta and a side of rich, fatty, pork laden beans. The pasta dishes are wonderful, and can easily be shared. Sure, my wife is moving to Kansas City, but Edo's Squid will bring me back to Richmond......oh, and of course the in-laws and assorted friends....but in reality it will be those oysters.
Posted 29 June 2009 - 09:39 PM
For dinner, Meredith had penne with…um…crap, Meredith, chime in here please – ricotta, red sauce, what else??? It was good, I know that:
Jerry had the aforementioned lamb sausage, polenta and beans:
Mr. Kim had a wonderful flat iron steak, unbelievably tender and juicy and delicious:
in the foreground of the picture is what’s left of the dressing of the scungili insalada – we wouldn’t let them take it away and kept asking for more bread (the incomparable Billy Bread – a Richmond treasure) to sop it up!
I had the spaghetti with puttanesca sauce:
pungent with melty, lovely anchovies and really GOOD olives!
I wonder how many folks noticed Jerry’s almost throwaway line: “my wife is moving to Kansas City” – yep, they’re married, folks! Newlyweds – got married last week in Savannah! Congratulations, Meredith and Jerry!!